Thursday, January 20, 2011
UNITED NATIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
I've been doing a lot of research on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, penned in 1948 and signed by the member states of the United Nations.
Yesterday I took a tour of the United Nations (it's 18 acres that belong to the whole world) and the guide said there were 192 member nations. I asked if any nations didn't belong. She said, Cook Islands, the Holy See (although they have observor status), and some island called Nauru or Niwi or something. The woman had a very strong Japanese accent and there were some words I couldn't understand.
I looked up the Cook Islands which are protected by New Zealand and only have 14,000 people. Their main language is English. They are only about 200 square miles.
In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there are some rights that appear to conflict with one another. For instance, everyone has the right to express themselves and to an education. However, there is also the right of each culture to retain their ways. So, some cultures (the Taliban, for example) do not want their women to be able to read and write. Do they have the right to their culture, or must they allow women the universal right to read and speak and educate themselves? I think we mostly feel that they ought to allow the women to read. This smashes their culture.
Many religious groups are not in accord with the United Nations and their demands for absolute equality. Catholics and some Lutheran groups do not allow women to be priests for instance. Do we have the right to our cultural beliefs? If we do, why don't the Taliban?
This conflict within rights discourse fascinates me.
The United Nations was started by the winners of the Second World War: France, England, China, America and Russia were the initiators of the institution, the Japanese tour guide said. Germany and Japan, losers in WWII, do not have security coucil status and cannot veto motions, as can the big five. I wondered what she thought about this, but I was too afraid to ask.
The United Nations had a dual role at its inception. They wanted to stop future wars by making the whole world a matter of countries under self-rule. They therefore wished to get rid of European colonies. However, the central nations are European, and so some argue that the United Nations is colonialism by other means. The notion of tolerance -- beyond which we must go to war, is another UN idea. They want us to be able to tolerate each other.
The UN Peacekeeping army (an all-volunteer army) won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1998. The UN are not disposed to invade a country (but isn't that what happened in Afghanistan?) but they are supposed to use sanctions. However, it's possible to invade (especially to prevent genocide).
There were lots of contradictions. An army won the Peacekeeping prize. People have the right to their own culture, except when it conflicts with western cultural notions of education and freedom of speech. The globalization of human rights through the United Nations can be seen as a westernization of the whole world. At the same time, it has a countervalent movement to rid the third world of western colonies.
In 1945, when the United Nations was started, there were hundreds of colonies around the world. Now there are only about thirteen. One of them was the Falkland Islands off of Argentina. Is that really a colony? The people there are largely British, and haven't voted to secede, to my knowledge.
There was an exhibit about Palestine, but we weren't allowed to stop there and read it. We had to keep moving.
Meanwhile, the guide told us that the referendum in the Southern Sudan went through. So it looks like we'll have 193 nations at the United Nations soon. I wonder what their flag will look like and what they will call their country.
Some 100% good things the UN is doing: they have given insecticide treated nets to 60 million children in Africa and malaria has fallen 80%. They are working to get rid of landmines worldwide. 80% of the victims of landmines are illiterate children. They are trying to cut hungry people in half. They give school supplies to kids. They are working to provide fresh water in Haiti. In India, they are trying to get more toilets to people. 600,000,000 people in India have never sat on a functioning toilet.
The United Nations is trying to spread equality around the globe. This means that they want women to own more property, for instance. Only 1% of the world's wealth is held by women. But in America, more women than men go to college. Should the United Nations correct that second imbalance?
Everyone is constantly striving to get ahead (of others) and meanwhile, there are organizations that are devoted to absolute equality. I find these countervalent impulses comical... and yet necessary!